Catholics of Delhi Archdiocese pray during an annual rally on Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
Hindu groups in India are planning to launch a nationwide campaign to curb religious conversion, which they claim is a form of violence and a crime.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) say religious conversion is rampant in tribal-dominated areas and they plan to bring those converted back to the Hindu fold.
But their claims brought a swift rebuttal from Christian leaders.
“The Catholic Church in India does not promote or propagate religious conversion and, as the RSS and VHP claim that it does, then let them prove it,” Father Nicholas Barla, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops' Commission for Tribal Affairs, told UCA News.
“From time to time, those groups blame us for conversion, but there is no record of any religious conversion where the Church is involved, so there is no question of reconversion.
“Everybody knows that the Church is engaged in many charitable works. Our main concern is that any charitable work can be construed as allurement to conversions, but it is not true. We should do our work and should not give heed to RSS and VHP propaganda.”
A.C. Michael, national coordinator of the United Christian Forum, told UCA News that the Hindu groups’ conversion claims are not reflected in government records.
“Census after census, the Christian population has remained at 2.3 percent. Are these organizations privy to certain data to which we are not?” he asked.
“These are just excuses to carry out their agenda of consolidating a vote bank. The right to freedom of religion is a fundamental right under our constitution.”
Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said the RSS and VHP aim “to spread hate against Christians, thereby germinating the seeds of an anti-Christian mindset.”
“The violence in Kandhamal, the worst anti-Christian violence in Odisha, would not have been possible had there been no violent campaign against the Church and missionaries in the district of Dangs in Gujarat at least 10 years prior to the violence of Kandhamal,” George said.
Meanwhile, VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal said the group and RSS workers will conduct door-to-door visits in tribal areas to educate people about the Hindu religion.
“We will even press the federal government to check that converted Christians and Muslims should not get the benefits reserved for the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities as it will amount to violation of the rights exclusively meant for those communities,” Bansal said.
The Hindu leader said religious conversion cases are reported mostly from tribal-dominated areas of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal.
VHP general secretary Milind Parande said that “religious conversion is a form of violence because it alienates the people from their original culture, traditions and roots.”
He said there is an urgent need to bring in legislation to halt conversion. “We are discussing with state governments that this kind of violence should be stopped by formulating a new law,” he said.
Gharwapsi, a reconversion drive carried out by right-wing Hindu groups, has gained momentum since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government came to power in India in May 2014. Hindu nationalists accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions.
Uttarakhand became the ninth Indian state to enact a religious conversion law in 2018. The others are Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu.